CHICAGO (AP) — As for that Carlos Zambrano-to-the-bullpen experiment, the Chicago Cubs are saying: "Never mind."
Having failed to fix the team's eighth-inning relief woes or to improve his own performance during his three weeks in the bullpen, the $91.5 million right-hander is returning to the rotation.
"We took a chance that we needed to take," manager Lou Piniella said before Tuesday night's game against Colorado. "We thought his velocity would increase. It hasn't. We're going to stretch him out to get him back in the rotation, and we'll see when he's ready."
Piniella said he'd like Zambrano to pitch two or three times in long relief before making the move. Though all five starters have pitched decently, Tom Gorzelanny is the most likely to be sent to the bullpen to make room for Zambrano.
"We're not five games under .500 because we've had a bad rotation," general manager Jim Hendry said.
Zambrano had 91 victories in his first six full seasons as a Cubs starter before winning only nine times last year. He came to camp this spring in his best shape ever but got rocked by Atlanta on opening day and was 1-2 with a 7.45 ERA in four starts.
The combination of Zambrano's struggles, Ted Lilly's return from the disabled list and the ineffectiveness of every pitcher Piniella employed as setup man to closer Carlos Marmol led the Cubs to move their one-time ace to the bullpen.
But Zambrano didn't have very good command or velocity, rarely reaching 90 mph with his fastball. In his most recent outing, he gave up three runs in an inning against Pittsburgh. He had a 6.23 ERA in eight relief appearances, making a bad situation worse.
Zambrano, who turns 29 on June 1 and is signed through 2012, wasn't thrilled about leaving the rotation in the first place. So he was excited to hear he was returning.
"I'm happy, man," he said about becoming a starter again. "As long as the team's happy, I'm happy. Whatever this team wants me to do, I do."
Zambrano recently told Hendry he was having trouble getting loose quickly in the bullpen — a must for a short reliever. And the Cubs aren't about to use a $91.5 million pitcher as a mopup man in one-sided games.
"No, no, no," Piniella said. "We don't need Zambrano or any pitcher of that quality in that role."
Hendry said he hopes the break from the rotation will energize Zambrano and help him return to "the dominant Z" of a few years ago. At his best, Zambrano could throw 95 mph.
Meanwhile, the Cubs believe Sean Marshall has emerged as a viable setup man for Marmol.
"He's flourished," Piniella said. "He's probably pitching as well as any left-hander in baseball out of the bullpen."